Interview With Arleen Spenceley

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Photo courtesy of Arleen Spenceley

Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin (Ave Maria Press, Nov. 2014). She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com.

What was the inspiration behind
Chastity is For Lovers?
Chastity Is For Lovers was inspired by my desire to encourage the people who already practice chastity, and to present chastity to the people who don’t practice it yet. I want people who are virgins to know they’re not alone, and I want people who are saving sex from now on to know that chastity truly is possible, and I want people who haven’t heard of it, or who’ve got it confused for abstinence, to know what it actually is.
Do you feel yourself drawn towards any particular vocation or do you prefer to be open to all of them?
I am most drawn to marriage, but I’m not married to it. I’m still not sure to which specific vocation God will call me, but I hope to be open to any of them when that’s clearer to me. In the meantime, seeking Him first is a fantastic way to prepare to accept the call to any vocation. Doing so will refine our desires, and pave the way for continuing to seek Him first when I become a wife or a nun or otherwise consecrated single person.
Tell me what it’s like to be single. How is that different from dating, marriage, and religious life?
I’m two kinds of single: unmarried, and also not currently in a dating relationship. But I’d consider myself “single and mingling,” ’cause I do date. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be perpetually single, because I don’t know yet if I will be. But I can tell you that this season of singleness — if it indeed is a season — is actually kind of exciting. That has less to do with what I’ve done during this season and more to do with what God is done. It is clear to me, almost always only in retrospect, that how single I am has been integral for my ability and availability to do some of what God has invited me to do.
Had I not been single while writing the book proposal for Chastity Is for Lovers and then while writing the book itself, I probably would have neglected the writing or the relationship. That isn’t to say a person can’t write a book, or travel and speak, or otherwise serve the Church while dating or married. But because of my particular circumstances, another commitment would have been a bad idea.
I wrote the book proposal during my second to last semester of grad school. At the time, I worked 32 hours a week as a staff writer for the newspaper, interned 14 hours a week as a counselor at a youth shelter, took two classes and lived, interned, worked and went to school in four different cities. As much as I had moments of hoping I’d meet a guy to date, God didn’t open that door and in retrospect, I’m super glad that he didn’t.
One problem I personally have with being single is loneliness. How do you deal with that?
When loneliness hits, I say “focus on Jesus, focus on Jesus, focus on Jesus,” over and over, in my head. The last time I “ached” like we sometimes do while we’re single was when I was interested in a specific guy — a guy from whom I wasn’t hearing. And while I hoped he’d text me or call, God legit spoke to me when this thought popped into my head: “You don’t ache because you’re alone. You ache because you’re looking in the wrong direction.” I hadn’t been seeking first Jesus. I’d been seeking first some other guy. So I needed that reminder to focus on Jesus.
Who’s your go-to saint when it comes to anything relating to dating/boys/love life/etc?
For most of my adult life, St. Francis de Sales has been my go-to, ’cause we’re basically BFFs.  In undergrad, while I studied journalism, I suffered from anxiety. One day, I stumbled upon a quote from St. Francis de Sales about anxiety, and it really helped. A few days later, I stumbled upon another de Sales quote. It was also about anxiety, and it also really helped. I’d never heard of de Sales before I stumbled upon his quotes, so the journalist in me had to do some digging. I looked him up, which is how I discovered that he’s the patron saint of journalists. I’ve felt a connection to him ever since.
If you’d like to see the quotes I stumbled upon, click here.
What advice would you give to young girls and boys right now?
I’d give both females and males the same two pieces of advice: a) Reflect a lot on the fact that you are of infinite value because you exist, and b) Focus on Jesus, focus on Jesus, focus on Jesus.

Click here to follow Arleen Spenceley on Twitter, click here to like her on Facebook, and click here to follow her on Instagram.

What's In A Name?

Today is Pope Francis’s birthday. And something people forget about birthdays is that it’s not only the day you were born, but more often than not the day when you are given a name.

I have been known by many names in my life. I was born Ann Mary Monique Sandil Ocampo. Later on, I insisted on being called by my middle name so I wouldn’t be addressed as “Mary Ann.” In high school, I was called “Mi-chan” by my best friend, “Lady” by my guy friends, and “DJ Dizzy” whenever I was on the morning announcements.  But I also dealt with my fair share of name calling. A high school bully called me “Momo” and “Snaggletooth.” One classmate in college flirted with me a lot and called me “babe” or “baby” at least once. An absent minded professor kept calling me “Michelle.” Someone who I thought was friend wanted me to change my name altogether so that I could start a new life with them.

But now that I’m out of college, I am back to being regular Monique Ocampo. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why is the name we call ourselves by so important?

According to Aquinas, the name of a thing says something about the thing itself. It’s like how St. Peter the Apostle’s name meant “rock” as an analogy to Peter being the foundation of the church as well as to Peter’s headstrong personality. Names can be meaningful by the definition behind the name or they can honor a person by that same name.

When you change your name, you change a part of yourself. Some people change their names to take on a new identity, either to stand out or blend in or mark a significant change in their lives. Sometimes name changes are part of a coming of age ritual such as the sacrament of Confirmation where most young adults choose a Confirmation name or when religious sisters change their name as they take on their final vows.

So why do popes change their names? It started with Pope John II in 533, who originally had the name Mercurius. He felt it inappropriate for a pope to have the name of a Roman god. Nowadays, popes have changed their names to honor their predecessors, a family member, or a saint they have a strong devotion to. In the case of Pope Francis, he chose the name after a friend in the conclave told him to remember the poor when he takes on the papacy. And even though I’ve called popes by nicknames (JP2 and Papa B), I haven’t found the right nickname for Pope Francis. But maybe for now I don’t need one. For now, just calling him “Pope Francis” is enough.

My Year In Photos: January

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This picture is more than just a picture of a door. The day before my birthday, I was in Austin. I was helping my brother move back into his dorm room, but I also paid a visit to an order of sisters. Specifically, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

I first saw these sisters while I was at Mass with my family. We were celebrating Mass in Buda, TX and I saw these sisters (not the ones I met, but another group of sisters from the same order staying in Buda) sitting towards the front. It was basically the equivalent of a celebrity sighting for me.

They made me feel very welcome. I prayed vespers on the vigil of my birthday and made small talk, talking to these sisters about my path of discernment.

I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to pray with these wonderful women. I just forgot to get a picture with them. But in a way, I like this picture more because it represents a new beginning.

The month of January had a lot of other wonderful things. I saw Frozen, finally got my diploma from my alma mater and started taking pictures as part of my 365grateful challenge. But it was also a month where I really had to persevere and keep my goals in mind. Most people who make New Year’s resolutions end up not keeping them and I really struggled to make sure that I kept at least a few of them. Right now, I think the only resolution I ended up keeping was taking a picture every day. But hey, that’s one resolution kept and by the standards of Bridget Jones’s Diary, that makes my year very good indeed.

Lent Day 40: Music for Holy Week

A word of advice from experience. As much as I loved listening to my local Christian Music radio station, the occasional advertisement was always Easter-centric or said the words “He is Risen!” while I shouted: NOT YET!

Sorry, Christian Radio, but you’re kind of jumping the gun along with the rest of America here. The purpose of Lent is to remember the Passion and death of Jesus first. Catholics celebrate Easter for 50 days. There is plenty of time to celebrate, but now’s not the time. It’s like opening Christmas presents a week early!

With that in mind, I’m going to recommend some music to listen to during this week. Today, I want y’all to check out a woman named Audrey Assad and her album Fortunate Fall.

Patheos blogger Marc Barnes wrote what I think is the best recommendation for this album. But given that I’m also an Audrey Assad fan, I’m gonna give my two cents.

This album captures so much of what Lent is and what Lent centers on. The first track recalls the Exsultet, an ancient chant sung during the Easter Vigil. Ever heard of the term “Felix Culpa?” That’s Latin for “fortunate fall.” “O happy fault that gained for us so great a redeemer.” The sin of Adam led to Christ redeeming mankind as a whole, which is reflected upon in the Easter Vigil’s readings.

The second track is “Help My Unbelief.” Taking inspiration from Mark 9:24 and Doubting Thomas’s revelation, the song reflects the mindset of spiritual dryness. In this song, the person is making an effort to be faithful, but is suffering some kind of trial. How often we forget to ask the Lord for His help when we are down.

“Humble” is a song of praise to Jesus for becoming human. So many songs in Christian music speak so much of Jesus’s divinity. How many songs acknowledge His humanity? The song also asks those listening to follow in John the Baptist’s example, to let themselves decrease so that Christ can increase.

“O Happy Fault” is an interlude but worth listening to for the instrumentals and the echos of “Felix Culpa.” It’s almost meditative, recalling the Easter Vigil with gratitude and gravitas.

“Lead Me On” takes inspiration from the uber-famous Psalm 23. Although it’s a structured song (in the whole verse-chorus-verse sense), it continues the theme of gratitude grounded in humility. It’s beautiful in its simplicity, with the imagery of the psalm actually working with the subtle glow of the song. Mark Barnes sings this song’s praises better than I can, tho, so read his article linked above, please!

“I Shall Not Want” takes inspiration from a Catholic prayer called The Litany of Humility. It’s also structured in a verse-chorus-verse style, but the song is carried with just piano, stringed instruments, and backup vocals. Again, there is beauty within the simplicity of this song, which cries out with desire of deliverance from everything the world values most.

“Good to Me” is a song of praise within hard times. Happiness that is surrounded by hardships. More “spiritually high” than “Help My Unbelief,” it recalls some familiar biblical phrases from the Psalms and the Song of Solomon. It captures a martyr’s hope in such a beautiful way.

“Felix Culpa” is another instrumental interlude. It repeats the earlier “O Happy Fault,” but takes on a more joyful tone, like a sunrise on Easter Morning.

“Spirit of The Living God” is a cover of an old hymn, a prayer to the Holy Spirit. So much power behind what I am sure is a song done in a minor key. (I’m not a music major, so please, someone listen to this song and tell me if this was done in a minor key!)

“Lead Kindly Light” is based on a prayer by Cardinal Newman. It’s a prayer of a lost soul trying to find home again. It can also be about a person trying to find his path to whatever God is calling him to do. It’s the story of a journey, of a walk taken in faith and not by sight. The piano and soft vocals reflect the tone of the words. It’s not a grand gesture, like “Amazing Grace,”  but instead a quiet acquiescence to God’s will.

The last song on the album starts in a moment of silence. “You Speak” comes as a “fade to black” ending to this rich album. The chorus of the song echoes Mother Teresa’s famous quote “In the silence of the heart, God speaks.” It builds up to a wonderful crescendo before slowly fading out, like Jesus ascending into Heaven.

Listen to this album. It is awesome.

Lent Day 38: The Voice In the Silence

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Many a Catholic identifies this as a refrain to a familiar psalm.

But what is God’s voice? We can’t exactly hear it!

Maybe the reason we can’t hear it is because we’re not listening to it. But we’re not the only ones. There’s a famous passage about Elijah trying to find God in 1 Kings 19: 11-12

‘Then the Lord said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.’

The last four words in this verse are more well known as “a still small voice.”

Mother Teresa said that “In the silence of our hearts, God speaks.”

Holy Week is a period that consists of more silence than celebration after Palm Sunday. The readings are more solemn and many people spend time meditating on Jesus’s passion and death.

But how can we distinguish God’s voice from other voices, even in the silence of our hearts?

It starts by knowing what God would say. 9 times out of 10, what God wants is pretty much the opposite of what the world says would make us happy. And Satan, Father of Lies that he is, tries to make us think that he is God’s voice by offering us everything we think we want on a silver platter.

Tucker Max, famous for being the epitome of frat boy dreams everywhere, says “The devil doesn’t come dressed in a red cape and pointy horns. He comes as everything you’ve ever wished for.”

While God wants to give us what makes us happy, a lot of the time, what God wants to give us is not something we expect. It’s often the last thing we expect. Think of all the Bible stories you know. It usually starts with a reluctant hero who at first thinks he can’t, but decides to do God’s will anyway. Okay, that’s also part of the Hero’s Journey, but you get my point. There’s a reason why people always say “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

Today, I want you to spend time in silent meditation and I pray that you hear God’s voice during this Lenten season.

Lent Day 21: There's Something About Mary

Although Fr. Robert Barron’s reflection for today talks about fasting, there’s a little loophole within Lent that says that fasting isn’t required on solemnities that take place during Lent. There are two solemnities that take place during Lent: The Solemnity of St. Joseph and The Solemnity of the Annunciation.

I know that Catholicism is infamous for being against contraception, abortion, female priests, etc, but seriously. How can you say that the Catholic Church is anti-women when the Church has Mary!

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By no means is she considered God’s equal or superior to God, but seriously, Mary gets so overlooked by people who don’t understand or even undermine her importance. She became the mother of the Savior of humanity and according to Catholicism, when she said “Yes” to Gabriel, she said “Yes” to becoming the mother of God! (Insert dramatic music.)

Now I understand that the idea of being devoted to Mary is a little crazy. I’m still trying to get my head around it. However, I will say that it is NOT worshiping Mary. It’s more like this: think about your favorite supporting character from a book, TV show, or film. That character sometimes has as many fans as the main character of a work if not more. It doesn’t take away the main character’s importance, but you feel like that story wouldn’t be the same without that particular supporting character. What would Star Wars be without Han Solo or Star Trek without Spock?

Mary is the same way. She is the most loved supporting character in the Gospel, at least when it comes to Catholicism. She may not have played a large role in Jesus’s ministry, but she had an important role from Jesus’s conception to adulthood. She and Joseph were given the responsibility to raise Jesus and represent the kind of people He would serve when He grew up.

It’s kind of funny that the people who were chosen to be Jesus’s parents were the quiet, humble types. Stories nowadays love loud, brash, take-charge heroes. And yet, here’s Mary in all of her simplicity and she becomes the mother of the Savior.

Now I’m NOT gonna go into speculation on Mary’s background, age, or the numerous apparitions attributed to her. Instead, I want you to listen to this song from Danielle Rose. Mary had a choice. And she said “Yes.” Whatever you might think about Catholicism and how Mary is seen, be glad that she said “Yes” and chose to let God conceive Jesus within her.

Don’t be afraid to say “Yes” to whatever God is asking of you. Let God’s will be done and marvel at how awesome things will be.

Lent Day 18: Saints Past and Present

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten Meditation goes into the diversity of the saints. Despite what you may think, given the flatness of the stained glass windows, saints are not cookie cutter clones. The saints in Heaven are as varied as the flowers on earth. St. Therese of Lisieux says this a lot better, though:

“I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our lord’s living garden.”

Here’s something I bet you never thought about: YOU are called to become a saint!

“But I can’t be a saint!” you say. “I’d have to be a priest or a nun or something like that.”

Ever heard of St. Gianna? 20th Century saint (as in born in the 1900s) who lived a life as a mother and doctor who decided to have her 4th child in spite of the fact that it could possibly kill her. (Pro-Life feminist FTW!) Or St. Pier Giorgio Frassati, a man who never married but spent his life taking care of the poor who lived in his town with his parents having no idea about what he was doing aside from the fact that he spent a lot of time in prayer.

“But those were great people!” you say. “I could never do miracles, give my life up like that, or serve the poor like they did.”

Mother Teresa said:

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

“How the heck can I become a saint?” you ask.

It starts with being yourself. God isn’t asking you to be exactly like any of the saints you may have heard about, but you can learn more about the saints this Lent and figure out who you find yourself relating to. However, I want to challenge you to find a saint that’s the complete opposite of you and find out what you can learn from them.

Here’s an example from me. My top 5 saints (in no particular order) are: St. Monica, St. Therese, St. Thomas Aquinas, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and St. Joan of Arc.

Like St. Monica, I’ve had my share of bad relationships. Like St. Therese, I prefer a simple life and have a great inner life. But as far as the other 3 saints are concerned, they all have something I wish I had in myself. I love St. Thomas Aquinas’s intellect and would give my pinkie toe to spend a day with him, talking about the Summa. Also, St. Thomas Aquinas was the one who wrote my favorite Latin song, the Tantum Ergo. Venerable Fulton Sheen brought Catholicism to the mainstream media through his TV show and I want to do what he did someday. And I long for St. Joan’s courage to stand up for my faith. The closest thing I got to being like St. Joan of Arc was acting as her in a monologue for a college drama class.

Look at modern examples of wonderful, holy people who aspire to be saints right now. Look at what Pope Francis does and not just what the media says about him. Or look at what Sister Cristina is doing on The Voice. By putting herself out there in the Italian mainstream media, she is representing nuns everywhere. Check out Audrey Assad and Matt Maher for modern examples of Catholics who are living their faith doing what they love. Or if you’re more of a bookworm, check out Mark Hart the Bible Geek or Brandon Vogt or the numerous Catholic apologists like Peter Kreeft or GK Chesterton. (BTW: Pray for GK Chesterton’s intercessions because he would make a seriously awesome saint.)

And if the idea of sainthood still intimidates you, you’re not alone. Listen to Danielle Rose’s “The Saint that is Just Me.” Danielle Rose, a Catholic singer, discerned religious life for a while, but after spending a few years in the convent, she learned that it wasn’t her calling. She now works in an orphanage in China, but she also has an album out, which you can check out at her website.

tl;dr: Be holy and sainthood will follow eventually.

Lent Day 13: Aftermath

At the end of the retreat I staffed yesterday, there was a talk about how to take what you’ve learned from the retreat and carry it with you. 

It seems like after a retreat, there are five stages that retreaters go through.

  1. Adding everyone you met at the retreat onto social media accounts, whether you really bonded with them or not
  2. Having a spiritual high, feeling totally motivated to go out into the world and spread the good news.
  3. Getting caught up in everyday life and eventually slipping up
  4. Feeling guilty about slipping up
  5. Realizing that God’s mercy is infinite and all the stuff you heard at the retreat was seriously true.

But as the awesome young adults at Blimey Cow pointed out, a spiritual high is just a feeling. And feelings, as I’ve learned recently are not always reliable. However, as I said before, pushing away emotions is just as unhealthy as dwelling on your emotions.

So the question remains: What exactly can you do when the spiritual high is gone?

One suggestion from Fr. Robert Barron is to take prayer with you on your daily commute. Pope Francis suggested something similar, only he used a train ride as a hypothetical situation instead of a car. Think of it as a tiny spiritual energy boost. It saves you from being rude to other drivers and you can forgive said other drivers if and when they are ever rude to you.

But that’s everyday life, you say. What about when we find ourselves at our lowest point?

“Hand it over.” Also known as “Offer it up.” Catholics say either one of these phrases a lot. But what does it mean?

Handing your problems over or offering up your sufferings means sharing in Christ’s suffering, putting meaning to your suffering. Also, be joyful in your suffering. NOTE: THIS IS NOT A FORM OF MASOCHISM! Being joyful in your suffering means acknowledging that whatever bad things are happening in your life are temporary. Even if the entire year seems to suck for you, eventually it will pass over and a new year will begin.

This is definitely easier said than done, I know. But I put that list of songs yesterday for anyone who felt like they were at their lowest point.

After all, according to The Legend of Korra, “When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I will end this post with a prayer attributed to him:

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Lent Day 9: For Such a Time as This

One of my favorite Old Testament books is the book of Esther. The Jewish holiday of Purim begins Saturday night. Today’s First Reading features Esther in a time of prayer. 

Sometimes, things happen that inspire us to change our perspectives, which Fr. Robert Barron talks about in his Lent Reflection. For Esther, she realized that it was no coincidence that she was chosen to become queen at a time when her people needed someone to save them from Haman’s genocide. Last year, it was no coincidence that the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II happened at the same year that Pope Benedict decided to abdicate and Pope Francis was elected.

Timing is everything and since God is the creator and master of time, it was His will that all of these things happened. To this day, I still wonder why Benedict chose to retire, even though I know that he wanted to retire before he was elected. He chose to be pope for eight years, setting the foundation for some changes in the Church that were more interior than exterior. Because of Benedict, the Mass has changed and I’m starting to forget the times before the new Roman Missal.

I’ll be honest when I say that I took him for granted at the time. #cradleCatholicproblems, I know. But I took the pope for granted even back as a kid when John Paul II was pope. I took both popes for granted for different reasons. When John Paul II was pope, I was a little kid who saw him as an old man. He was past his prime, struggling with Parkinsons, and I didn’t know any better. When Benedict became pope, I was a teenager and I was holding onto my faith during a really hard time, but the problem was I didn’t know what it really meant to be Catholic and there wasn’t really anyone around to help me because I was in public school. In college, I realized how amazing both of these popes were and I figured that Benedict would lead the church until God called him home.

Of course, that didn’t happen. And I’ll be honest: I cried when I heard the news. I knew the news could’ve been worse, but I had no idea that popes could choose to not be pope. I felt abandoned and confused. I wasn’t alone in how I felt, either. It was like Lent had started early. I still miss Pope Benedict today, but I always love seeing him, just knowing that he’s alive and well, even though he’s retired.

Fast forward to March 13, 2013.

I was in the living room, watching the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, waiting for the white smoke to come. So far, I have only seen black smoke and it felt like an answer was taking forever. I knew the times that the smoke was likely to appear, but that morning, it took forever

And then at 1:07PM CST (7:07 Vatican time), the white smoke finally came out.

I started dancing in my living room and I wasn’t the only one. St. Peter’s square was screaming and every Catholic on the internet was rejoicing. Ain’t no party like a Catholic party, people, because we are all connected through our shared baptism and when something like this happens, we can’t help but celebrate.

My mom told me that when God chose the pope in the conclave, he wasn’t just choosing a pope for the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, but that He also chose the new pope for me. God’s timing was working in my life because as I said before, the fact that there was going to be a new pope lifted me up from the sad part of my life. And this was before I even knew who the new pope was going to be.

My first impression of Pope Francis was “He’s kind of awkward and shy.” What I didn’t realize was that he was taking in the crowd and I soon learned just how not awkward or shy Pope Francis was.

Now while people think that Pope Francis is turning the Catholic Church upside-down, I’ll tell you right now, he’s not. The song is the same, but the way the song is played has changed. Think of it this way: if Jesus’s message is like the original version of the best song you’ve ever heard, every pope since then is that band that tries to make their best cover version of that song. Some have made horrible covers, some are okay, and some covers are as awesome as the original. John Paul II’s song was like the showstopping number of an amazing musical. Benedict’s song was a lot more quiet, like a piano sonata. Francis’s song has just begun, but I compare it to an indie pop song that made its way onto the Billboard Top 40. And all of them are equally beautiful in their own way.

But in the end, all popes are striving to sing the same song: follow the example of Christ and live out His message. 

Today, think about how God’s timing has worked its way into your life and pray for all the popes that have come before. Also, pray for Pope Francis, since he asked us so nicely.